Saturday, June 29, 2013

Twenty years in the blink of an eye

Oh hail, oh hail to old Klein High! The school we love the best...

Last night was my twenty year high school reunion, and I'm officially not too cool in my old age to say that it was a blast!!!

As much as some people love/hate Facebook, there is no doubt it has been the biggest reason I have found and reconnected with the friends of my youth. Here and there, over the last four years, I've rediscovered and rebuilt the relationships that I took for granted all those years ago. Now, when I come home to Houston, I always try to catch up with whomever can grab a drink or go for a run together.

I think I'm pretty lucky to be from Houston. Besides the obvious that it's in Texas (duh), the other huge benefit is that as one of the biggest cities in the U.S., many of my friends still live and work there. So coming home truly means coming back to my friends. 

I've been joking it was like going to prom - in fact, a couple of months ago when I was last home, I asked my dad: "Can I borrow the car for the reunion, Dad?" Doesn't hurt that it's a convertible Corvette... and until I broke my leg Memorial Day weekend, I was going to be the cool kid!! Alas, broken leg = no driving in Houston, so it turned into: "Tiff, can I get a ride to the prom?" Third wheel, at your service!!

Tiffany and Tommy Robinson with me, the Third Wheel

To make it even more of a time warp, it's time to leave, and my mom asks me if I have anything. At which point, I have to sheepishly respond... "Um, Mom, can I have some money?" Yep. I was ready to party like it was 1993. Top it off with the pictures in the front hallway - like every dance I went to in high school - and I almost asked what my curfew was. Until my mom told me I could stay out as late as I wanted. Seriously. 

Tommy, Tiff and I grabbed dinner ahead of time with some more friends, and spent much of dinner cracking ourselves up with the game "Things we never would have said twenty years ago." One of my favorites: Jason, the grey in your beard makes you look distinguished!

Jason, Tommy, me and Tiff at Yard House for dinner

We pulled into the reunion and the real time warp began. I suppose there's a little bit of self selection when it comes to reunions, but I swear, half of my classmates didn't look like they'd aged a day in twenty years. So fun to find out what people have been doing for the last two decades - there were doctors, teachers, engineers, stay at home moms, police officers, a published author, lawyers, even a judge. I had fun telling people I sell toilet paper. Heehee!! 

KHS Band friends - yep, we were pretty awesome

Dr. Ed Nash, my senior year Homecoming date
(he wasn't a doctor then, but he's always been super cool!)

With Dr. Shelby Hampton (seriously, I feel like such a slacker)
For the record, we both look even more fabulous than we did 20 years ago

Tiffany, Alisa and me - friends since 5th grade

with Marisa and Whitney

The final play of our dinner game came at the end of the night: "I gotta get off my feet. My back is killing me." Definitely didn't hear that one after the prom. 

I'm so glad I got to come home for the reunion. Of course there were many who didn't make it - but again, thanks to the power of social media, we're already planning a reunion redux for August when I'm back for our summer family visit. 

We will make our stand, every heart in hand, for the honor of old Klein High!

Go Bearkats!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline and John's artwork

How fun it's been to have an art assignment each week this summer with the kids! I've enjoyed the projects we've done so far, and the collage turned out to be even better than I thought.

This week's assignment was Collage: Colorful! My intent was to cut out pictures from magazines and paste them onto posterboard to make a collage which elicited a response of "that's so colorful!" In fact, that exactly how I explained it to the kids.

This one took a little bit of preparation - the only magazine we get is the West Point magazine for graduates, and there isn't a whole lot of "colorful" going on in the glossies of that publication. So I sent out an email a few weeks ago to a few friends at work, and BOOM - jackpot. A couple of my coworkers subscribe to the perfect magazines for this assignment: People, All You, O, Real Simple... throw several clothing catalogues in, and we had everything we needed.

Magazines - check.
Poster board - check.
Scissors - check.
Glue sticks - check.

Before we sat down to cut out pictures, though, I figured it was worth making this at least a rudimentary lesson. Out came the dictionary to explain what, precisely, a collage is. (Using the dictionary, on the other hand, is an ongoing lesson...)

It took a couple of days to get everything done, working on it in the time we had in between doing super fun things with Gramma and Papa. I think, though, that the finished products are excellent. There is no doubt that these are eye popping colorful collages.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Grocery Guessing Games (aka, Sneak Attack Math)

Use math in your everyday conversations to help teach your kids, right? That's what the "experts" all say. There's nothing BUT math at the grocery store, and while I've kicked around the idea of giving each child a calculator so we can talk about unit math, and cost per use, and even calculate tax, that's always felt too overwhelming while pushing a cart, checking off a list, and making sure the Super Size pack of Double Stuf Oreos doesn't mysteriously end up under the canned goods.

I had a really short list yesterday with less than ten things on it, so I figured, this is a good time to make this a math game. Instead of the calculator, I went with a guessing game. On the way to the store, we went through the list together, talking about how big the pack was and how many might be in it. They then had to guess how much it cost and write it down. When we got to the store, we would write down the real price and see who was closest.

Hooooooo boy. Good thing my kiddos don't work in the pricing department at Walmart.

Caroline's list - adjusted after the first few items

John's list - apparently, he was paying attention during
some of those trips to the store with Daddy!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mama is learning this summer, too

So I've talked multiple times about the summer Coussoule Curriculum, and I'm quite certain I've mentioned that my kids aren't the only ones with assignments. I'm four weeks in to summer, and today was my fourth new recipe. It's both educational and a little bit self serving - all of the recipes are out of the same cookbook. Two birds with one stone: we try new things, I work on #32 on my life list.

I'll admit - the first one, not so good. Cornbread and Meat Squares. Where could I have possibly gone wrong with that, right? I love cornbread. I love meat. The kids love cornbread. The kids love meat. (Justin gracefully chose to eat leftovers that night - I made it on the night he teaches a Bible study and he doesn't much like things that resemble a casserole, anyway).

So. Cornbread and Meat Squares. Turns out it was basically a Tex Mex shepherds pie. And without the green chilis in the cornbread (in the false hope that my kids would love it so much I couldn't chance hot green things in it!), it was.... Well, it was just meh. Definitely not one to repeat. 

On to week two! Mexican Eight Layer Dip, the old party standby. My only mistake was planning it for dinner. Everyone loved it - but unfortunately for them, dinner was over after the appetizer. Oops. 

Last week was Hearty Rice Skillet. I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for a casserole. Which is weird and exactly opposite of how I feel about foods on my plate. I treat my food the way I treat my kids on a long car trip. NO TOUCHING. I mean, seriously. Nobody wants their roll touching their green beans. That's just gross. 

With casseroles, though, I'm usually all in. When it's cooked together, it is just my little piece of comfort food heaven. This world is a better place because of my mother's hamburgermacaroniandcheese casserole. And you really should run all of those words together when you say it. It's a literary casserole, and also, if you say it fast enough, nobody will ask you if Cheez Whiz truly counts as cheese.

So the Hearty Rice Skillet - I loved it. Another Lenten Friday night option for the future. Kids were unimpressed, but at least they tried it. We're big on the "no thank you bite" around here. You don't have to eat every night, but you definitely have to try everything. You can't say "no thank you" if you don't even know whether you like it, right?

So after a bit of a rocky start to the summer of new recipes, I decided this week I needed to deliver a crowd pleaser. Enter: One Bowl Chocolate Mocha Cake and homemade Rocky Road Frosting. 

This may be my first cake I've ever made from scratch. Certainly the first one I can remember making from scratch. We're talking cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate; measuring cups and spoons; even a sifter for the powdered sugar. Honestly, I picked this recipe because of the promise inherent in its name - one bowl. Pretty much foolproof. 

We'll see if it really does please the crowd tonight. The irony? I'm not a chocolate person. Don't like chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk, etc. etc. But I'll take my no thank you bite just to see if this changes my mind. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You Live Where?: Celebrity Edition

With the presence of Walmart's Global Headquarters and the hundreds - no, probably thousands - of their suppliers that also have offices and employees here, there is a very large, very active chapter of the Network of Executive Women to support diversity in the Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail industries. There are regular events, and one of the largest is their event that coincides with the annual Walmart NWA LPGA Championship presented by P&G.

Last Thursday morning's breakfast had two featured speakers: Ros Brewer, the CEO of Sam's Club, and Linda Cohn, ESPN sports journalist and the first female anchor of SportsCenter. Most of the people I know went to hear Ros speak, and no doubt, she is an impressive executive.

But HELLO - Linda Cohn!!!! I was super excited. Kirk Herbstreit and Linda Cohn in the span of six months. Where else would I get this opportunity outside of NWA??? (Yes, I know NYC would be one of those places, but roll with it, people.)

It was a big event - over 600 people were there, and I didn't expect to have the chance to get up close and personal the way I did with Kirk. But I did get to sit almost in the front row, and when they took questions at the end, you know I was ready. As much as I had enjoyed the conversation between Linda and Ros, this was my big chance to ask Linda a question just for her. And to tell her that I LOVE her. So that was pretty awesome.

Me: "First I'd like to thank both of you for your investment of time today. It's been great listening to both of you. And Linda, I wanted to let you know that you were terrific on Mike & Mike a couple of months ago - I can't wait for your podcast!"

My boss, nudging me: "Um, Amanda, question?"

Me: "Oh yeah, my question. Linda, can you share with us one moment in which you were most proud to be a woman in a male dominated business?"

Her answer was super cool. She was at a party during Super Bowl week 1998 and while standing near the bar, looked over and saw Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky having a conversation. Think about that for a second - two of the all time greats of any sport. Standing a few feet away, just chatting. And then - then, Michael looked at her, beckoned her over, and included her in the conversation just as he would've any male sportscaster. She said, that's when she knew she had made it.

So cool. As Linda herself says, this girl from Long Island who had overcome teenage self esteem issues and clawed her way to the top in the boys' club of sportscasting - she was the one that Jordan and The Great One asked to join them.

I don't face anywhere near the institutional discrimination that professional women 30 years ago did. In fact, I am blessed to work for a company that overtly seeks out women for management and leadership roles. But as any working woman will tell you, it is still a man's world, in both big and small ways.

So when I have the chance to celebrate the success of a professional woman, especially one in the world of sports, I'm all in. I'd like to think that Linda feels the same way - and she must've liked my question. Because she tweeted me back. #winning

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Feature: Memory work

So this week's feature is a little out of the ordinary. It's been a busy week with Gramma and Papa here, and there hasn't been much work done on worksheets, artwork, or even random projects in the playroom. So instead of showing what's come out of the two kiddos, today feels like the day to highlight what's going into them.

Growing up Southern Baptist, memorizing Bible verses was always a part of my spiritual life. There was a verse every week to recite in Sunday School, and in the summertime, Bible drills during Vacation Bible School proved who knew their books and verses best.

Part of the summer Coussoule Curriculum is to memorize one verse each week. I used Google and my own memories to pick the twelve verses that I thought were most important for kids to know by heart. In the weeks when they get the verse down pat before Saturday, I put a bonus verse up on the bulletin board for them to work on. Two weeks into the summer, we've memorized three verses, are almost there with the fourth, and have bonus verse #2 in the works.

So far, the memory work has done exactly what I hoped - it's given me and Justin the opportunity to talk about what the verses mean and why they're important.

Depending on how this summer goes, we may have to break out Exodus 20:12 for a refresher here and there.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Family fun in the summertime

Two big fat exciting family events for us this week! The birth yesterday of a new niece/cousin, Claire Eleanor Abbott, and the arrival today of Gramma and Papa Coussoule!!

It's been exactly six years, one month, and thirteen days since there's been a baby in our extended family. So it is with no small excitement and rejoicing that we welcome my sister Susannah and brother-in-law Justin's baby girl into our family. Admittedly, John was not quite this enthusiastic when we learned a few months ago that the new cousin would be a little girl. In fact, it looked a little bit like a physical collapse combined with a face plant on the living room carpet when given the news. 

Thankfully, he's recovered. And excited to meet Claire. 

How could he not be when SHE'S SO CUTE!!!!!

And it's been a year since we've seen Gramma and Papa, so the excitement level in our house is off the charts. 

New cousin, visit from the grandparents. We're blessed with an awesome, loving family. Can't wait to see what fun stuff happens with them!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday feature: John's journaling

A little bit late getting this one up; summer gives me a good enough excuse, I think. Lazy days.

Coussoule Curriculum is going strong! The journaling has been a delight to read. Wednesday's assignment: "Describe the oldest person you know." For both kiddos, that would be my maternal grandmother Betty Shrum, their Great Grandmother Shrum, or GeeGee as they call her!

My grandmother is an amazing woman - she has been an entrepreneur, a politician, a small business owner, and is an overall wonderful human being. She lives in Tyler, Texas, and we do our best to see her whenever we are headed to Houston to visit my family. John drew a picture of her room in the assisted living facility to go with his words, translated below.

"The oldest person I know is GeeGee. She is ninety two years old. That is old! It takes a long time to get there. GeeGee is nice."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How does your garden grow - a month into summer

Thrilled to report that the early summer weather was much milder than last year, with significantly more rainfall. Thanks to the moderate weather up until about a week ago, my garden is thriving.

We have enjoyed several salads with spinach from the garden, and have already finished our first harvest of radishes:
The tomatoes, squash, carrots, green onions, cucumbers, peppers and pumpkins look great:

Even our potted flowers look good. 

The sun has gotten more intense and the humidity and heat have kicked in this past week, but here's to early success and a summer full of backyard garden harvests. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Silly Jump Through Hoops Day, more like it

I'm still not sure how it happened, but BAM - just like that, I'm the mom who does her kids' homework at 10PM the night before it's due, when they're already in bed.

Let me assure you - if this was "real" homework that had any bearing on their intellect or academic standing, I would not have caved to the pressure, or given in when I realized they'd be the only kids without in the morning. But this week is Camp Invention, and despite Justin and my best intentions, we're just not that in tune with the details.

Thank goodness for friends whose kids are going to the same camp - a text (received at 9:45PM last night, mind you) alerted me to the fact that today was SILLY HAT DAY. Ugh - how could I have missed that? There's no doubt that every.single.kid would show up with a silly hat today. I couldn't let my two munchkins be the only ones with bare, completely unsilly heads.

First thought - what do we have that we could pass of as silly? Pink cowgirl hat with tiara - check. Except Little Miss Particular may not care to wear a cowgirl hat to Camp Invention. Because cowgirl hats are for the rodeo, which is in Texas, and Camp Invention is decidedly neither of those. Little Mister Easy Going probably would've gone along with my insistence that a glow-in-the-dark M on a Mickey hat was silly, but I knew the jig would be up once he got to Camp. I mean, my friends were gluing straws on a safari hat, for crying out loud. Now that is silly.

Insert loud sigh, eye roll, and slumping shoulders here. It was the moment of reckoning. Honey, find the glue gun. I'll get the ribbons, the pom poms, the googly eyes, and the paper flowers.

I'll let you develop your own mental image of me hunched over the kitchen island, coaxing glue out of a glue gun while trying to avoid the stringy strands that create a glue gun spider web every time I use one of those things.

Good thing I like to randomly buy art supplies and scrapbooking embellishments. Otherwise, my kids would've had floppy hats nominally decorated with whatever I could find in the kitchen drawers. Instead, I think I pulled off something that looked - dare I say it - planned. And they were all smiles when they came down for breakfast this morning and saw them on the counter, waiting for their silly heads.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

They all have names

This past week was an exciting one for several of my West Point classmates. After sixteen years of active duty service, we celebrated some promotions to Lieutenant Colonel. 

It was especially gratifying to see pictures of one of my female classmates' promotion ceremonies. There were fewer than 100 of us women who graduated in the Class of 1997, and I think less than ten of us are still in uniform. To see Robyn in her dress uniform with the new silver leaf of an O-5 was a thrill for me. As Justin and I sat at the dinner table one night talking about the promotions, we talked about the few women who are still in. One of those women was Jaimie Leonard. 

Today, I learned that Jaimie was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. 

The shock of learning a classmate has passed never lessens, even though you know there is always a chance of the bad news when people are deployed all over the world at any given time. There had been an article in the paper this morning about three American soldiers killed in an attack by an Afghan soldier. They were trainers, and there had been an argument. 

Three American soldiers. No names - just American soldiers. 

And one of them was my classmate. 

We don't hear regular news stories about battles or skirmishes any more. There aren't uplifting stories about free elections, stable governments, or economic recovery from Iraq or Afghanistan. There are just occasional headlines and stories stuck toward the back of the front section in the newspaper giving the perfunctory details of attacks by individuals. I've always said a quick prayer for the families, especially the mothers, of those killed when I see these stories. I'm doing the same today, adding a prayer for all of the members of the Class of '97. 

When you're a West Point graduate, when it comes to your classmates - whether you were good friends, casual acquaintances, or just familiar with a face - you're all part of the Long Gray Line. So once again we grip hands though it be from the shadows, and we say:

Well done. Be thou at peace.

Update: Honoring the life of LTC Jaimie Leonard, USMA Class of 1997. On June 8, 2013, LTC Jaimie Leonard was killed in action while serving with the US Army in Afghanistan. The Class of 1997 has set up a memorial fund with the West Point Association of Graduates (AOG) to purchase a four-person shell (rowing boat) and to dedicate it in her name for the use of the Army Crew Team for years to come. The Army Crew Team’s boathouse will also display a box with pictures and narratives of Jaimie’s service to the nation. The fund requires $25,000. Upon fulfillment, the Class of 1997 will plan a dedication ceremony at West Point, possibly in May of 2014 or fall of 2014. Any person wanting to support Jaimie’s legacy in this way, may do so. 

All donations are tax deductable. Checks should be made payable to the West Point Association of Graduates, with “DCA Crew Team—in Memory of Jaimie Leonard” in the memo line or in an accompanying note. Gifts can also be made online at or by calling 845-446-1658. AOG mailing address: Gift Operations Department, West Point Association of Graduates, 698 Mills Road, West Point, NY 10996. If you give online, please ensure that you go to the link on the left that says "ways to give" and make sure to indicate that its for "DCA- Army Crew IMO Jaimie Leonard". In addition, many companies match funds, so please provide your employer information so that AOG may determine whether matching funds are available.

Please direct financial questions to the AOG. All other questions contact Pam Long, ’97, at Pictures of rowing shells are posted on the West Point Crew Team facebook page.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's summer journaling

The twelve weeks of Coussoule Curriculum have begun! Today's journaling topic: List 10 things you love about your sibling. Unfortunately, the two were at each other's throats apparently since about 9:00 this morning, so they weren't in a great frame of mind for this particular topic.

That periodically observed behavior, of course, is exactly why this topic was on the list. It was an epic intellectual struggle with much moaning and groaning, but the ultimate result isn't bad. John's needed quite a bit more effort - maybe next week he'll get closer to the mark. 

As much as I love her reasons she loves John, my favorite part of the journaling isn't the words: it's the picture. The way she drew them, they look more grown up than a 6 and 7 year old. Perfect way to illustrate that they really are Forever Friends. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Coussoule Curriculum

Summer is here!! No more school, no more books, no more learning... well, unless you're a kid in the Coussoule household. If that's your lot in life, then your Fayetteville Public School year may be over, but the Twelve Weeks of Summer Coussoule Curriculum has just begun.

Justin and I both have very high expectations when it comes to our children and their education. We think the local school district does a great job, but there's always an opportunity to enhance what they learn from their teachers. Given that both kids already read above grade level, and John's math skills tested off the charts for a kindergartner, we decided that this summer, it isn't enough to ensure simply that minimally they didn't lose their skills. This summer is an opportunity to give them something to really challenge them (not to mention keep them from getting on each other's last nerve before the end of the first week of break).

I spent most of last Sunday putting together a by-subject, by-week curriculum to keep them academically engaged during the summer. This summer, we're going to read; write; color; create; and discover some new wonders of science. We're also going to take piano lessons, memorize Bible verses, and do our daily and weekly chores. (You can access the spreadsheet by clicking the image below.)

And of course, the Fayetteville Public Library's summer reading program will ensure we make our way through hours of good books - one of the raffle prizes this year is an iPad Mini. John is off-the-charts motivated to get as many entries as possible in for that one!

On Monday, Justin took them to the local teacher supply store and picked out a stack of workbooks. Math; Science; Handwriting; Social Studies. Just think of the possibilities.

I think what I'm most excited about is the journaling. I had a ton of fun brainstorming three prompts per week for twelve weeks. Some of them are seasonal, some of them require critical thinking, and some of them are just fun. Based on the results from the first one this week, there will be plenty of Friday Feature material throughout the summer.

With all of this structure, I figure I'm well on my way to solidifying Meanest Mom on the Block status. Never fear - there will be plenty of free time for the kiddos this summer. Next week is Camp Invention; Gramma and Papa arrive on the 18th; we're signed up for Catholic Kidz Camp; and we'll definitely fit in a trip to Houston. Caroline has big plans to participate in a Kids Triathlon, and of course, it isn't summer if there isn't lazy time to play with the neighborhood kids, dig in the sandbox, or chase your sister around the backyard.

I have my own curriculum this summer - I've committed to making at least one new recipe per week all summer. It's a little bit self serving - making every recipe in a cookbook is an item on my life list, and there's no time like the present to get working on it - but it's also a great way to see if we can find some new ideas for the meal rotation. I also plan to read aloud to the kiddos as many children's classics as we can get through. We're starting with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and so far, it's a hit. I can't wait for James and the Giant Peach; Wind in the Willows; Charlotte's Web; or whatever classics we check out from the library.

So, Summer - we're so glad you're here. We can't wait for all of the fun we're going to have, and the things we're going to learn.

Sara Lawrence Lightfoot said: "There must be a profound recognition that parents are the first teachers and that education begins before formal schooling and is deeply rooted in the values, traditions, and norms of family and culture."

Justin and I are taking that to heart this summer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Caroline's First Holy Communion

We are faithful parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church here in Fayetteville, and the kids attend PRE all school year long on Sunday mornings. I even taught Caroline's first grade class last year, but not having grown up Catholic, I didn't feel comfortable teaching her second grade class this year since it's such an important year. This year she went through all of the classes to receive two sacraments: the sacrament of Penance, and this past Sunday, the sacrament of the Eucharist.

I'm sure sometimes people wonder whether children truly understand the fullness of their faith, but everything I've seen with Caroline - the questions she asks, the way she articulates the tenets of our faith, the interest she has in the Mass and her Sunday School lessons - tells me that she truly has the faith of a child. I'm so proud of her, and hope that she continues to live and grow in her love of Jesus Christ.

"Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -- Matthew 19:14

Caroline and our wonderful parish priest, Fr. John Antony

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Race Report: DNF, War Eagle 50k

Unfortunately, this is not my typical race report. Today, I attempted my first ultra - the War Eagle 50k trail run at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. And today, I had my first DNF - Did Not Finish

I'm frustrated. I'm embarrassed. I'm disappointed. 

It's been a tough week leading up to my first attempt at a 50k. Last Saturday, on my weekly long run, I got 1.5 miles into it and stepped on a rock on the sidewalk. I have notoriously weak ankles; I spent much of my high school basketball career in the training room, enduring an endless loop of ankle taping - cut the tape off - foot in a bucket of ice. Somehow, I've managed to avoid any serious injuries in the last year of basically nonstop training. I guess I was overdue.

The first questionable choice in preparation for today's 50k was to keep running last Saturday even after I rolled my ankle to the point that my ankle bone touched the sidewalk. I've walked off a thousand similar injuries; six miles later, though, I finally threw in the towel. Good thing I have awesome friends, one of whom came back to pick me up at the park in his car. Post-run, post-Epsom salt soak, post-ice, I thought: maybe it won't be too bad:

Sunday morning, though, the jig was up: I had a straight CANKLE

As the week went on it got better each day, and I stayed optimistic about my ability to do the 50k. Not only was it my first attempt at an ultra, I had already paid the $75 entry fee. Come on, people - you can't just let that go. 




I ran Thursday, just 3 miles, to see how it felt. A friend taped me up with K tape, and I thought I was going to be okay. 

Friday morning it felt great, seemingly no negative impact from the previous day's run:

By Friday after work, though, I could tell I'd had a setback. I began to question the wisdom of running on Saturday. It didn't help that severe storms (including possible tornados) were forecasted for the area. On the other hand, it also doesn't help that I'm a sucker for peer pressure. So this morning, I got up, got dressed, and headed out the door to do my best. 

If it hadn't been for my friend Jeff, there's no way I would have been able to muster the courage and grit to make the attempt. We met up at the parking lot and planned to stay together on the run. He did it last year and was familiar with the trail, so I figured that would help me avoid the worst spots. I needed to get my ankle taped, so naturally, I had world famous photographer Luis Escobar do it for me. Who else?

I don't think the gift shop lady was too keen about me sitting on her counter. But we were quick. One picture inside, then time to hit the trail. 

I could tell pretty much in the first two miles it was going to be a rough day. I essentially had to walk the downhills - and since I assumed I would have to walk a lot of the uphills, too, things weren't looking too good. The trails at Hobbs are amazing, but they're still trails, and still have rocks and roots and uneven footing. Right around mile 7, I did it again - stepped on a rock, rolled the ankle pretty badly. That was it - I knew I would be walking to the next aid station for a ride back to the finish. 

In those seven miles, though, I totally got why people love trail running. It was raining, but it really wasn't that bad under the canopy of the trees. It was muddy, but that made it more of an adventure. The quiet and solitude of a trail run are so different from the crush of the crowd in a huge traditional marathon. The runners come equipped with Camelbaks, and the aid stations have pretzels, gummy bears, and Coke. The challenge of the path sharpens your focus; makes you pay strict attention to your steps; requires that you demand more of the amazing machine that is the human body. 

I got an idea of the difference in the mindset needed for a trail run, as well as for an ultra. You can't halfway mentally commit to a 50k. You're either in or you're out - there is no halfhearted effort. I think that's why I'm convinced I'm well suited for the ultra distances. I'm all in - or I'm not in at all. 

Admitting defeat and accepting my first DNF feels terrible. I crow so much about my running, I was embarrassed to report my inability to suck it up and drive on. But that's when I realized, for maybe the thousandth time, how special the community of runners is. I was brought to tears by a dear friend who posted these for me on Facebook:

"...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." -- Teddy Roosevelt

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -- Teddy Roosevelt

I'll try again next year. For now, I'll mope a little bit, nurse my ego a little bit, and spend the next week providing embarrassed explanations to co-workers and friends. But something like a sprained ankle isn't enough to keep me on the sidelines. 

Time to hit the pool. With a vengeance.